Here we are again. I write to you in the wake of yet another bout of mass violence in our country. Information is still coming in as to what exactly happened in San Bernardino, but suffice it to say, it should not have happened.
Of course, in the wake of those shootings, the usual politicians and pundits are lining up to use this to support their cause, whether that be arming everyone (from the right) or gun control (on the left).
We could all learn a thing or two from our scripture passage this week. Instead of trying to be the first one to say something clever, or being the one to start the Twitter storm and get all the attention, perhaps it is better to stop and listen.
This week we are looking at the story of Zechariah. Now, many of you may not be familiar with this story, because unfortunately, it is left out of the lectionary and we don’t focus on it very often. However, every year, we get to the second Sunday of Advent, and we yet again focus on John the Baptist, and the same sermons are preached all over the country about ‘A voice crying out in the wilderness.’ Don’t get me wrong, it is important scripture, but I felt we should take a break this year and look at how we get to John’s voice crying out in the wilderness.
Zechariah was a temple priest who was descended from Abijah and Aaron. He was an important guy. We know this because very few people are allowed to enter the Holy of Holies where the story takes place. Zechariah is lighting incense when the angel Gabriel shows up and proclaims that even in Zechariah and Elizabeth’s old age, they would have a baby—John. Zechariah’s response is to start yapping at the angel and insisting that the laws of nature don’t allow for such things. Let it be a lesson to us all, that you don’t start telling God’s staff how the world works. Gabriel strikes Zechariah dumb, and he is unable to speak until the day when they are to name John. The crowd is insisting on honoring Zechariah and naming the baby after him, but Zechariah proclaims what the angel told him to—HIS NAME IS JOHN.
The whole story is written to be funny; from the comical scenes of the people trying to communicate through Zechariah using gestures (he isn’t deaf, just mute), to the fact that one of the biggest loud mouths in all of scripture came from a mute man. We are supposed to laugh at this story.
The other thing that we are supposed to get from this story is the importance of listening. The importance of paying attention and hearing the people we are talking with. Listening for God’s voice amidst disconcerting news that we may be hearing.
I am so tired of listening in the wake of these mass shootings because all I hear is people screaming at each other. It is as if the people on the left and the right think that their position makes so much sense that if they just yell a little louder at the opposing side, they will somehow hear what they have been saying all along. When will we learn that is the last possible thing we can do to cause substantial change in the midst of yet another tragedy.
What we need in this situation is not louder and more condescending voices crying out in the wilderness, we need listening. We need to learn the lesson of Zechariah that sometimes the most important thing to do is not be clever, but be thoughtful and discerning. Something is seriously wrong in this country. There is no question about that. The left wants to talk gun control, and the right wants to talk mental healthcare. They are both issues worthy of conversation. But snide voices that demean each other will ultimately only lead back to a deafening silence that settles in until the bullets find new victims. Stop. Listen. Think. Then let’s talk.